Harry Sparnaay studied at the Conservatoire of Amsterdam with Ru Otto.
After graduating with a performer's degree for clarinet he specialized in bass clarinet. Today he ranks among the world's distinguished bass clarinet players. He has played solo at numerous music festivals all over the wordl such as Warsaw, New York, Los Angeles, Zagreb, the Holland Festival, several ISCM Festivals, Madrid, Paris and Athens. Other festival include those of Witten, Aarhus, Como, Bolzano, Naples, Torino, Bourges, Middelburg, Graz, Salzburg, Huddersfield, Saarbrücken, Royan and Houston.
Sparnaay has been a featured performer with many major orchestra's and ensembles including the ASKO Ensemble, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Ensemble Intercontemporain, Ensemble 2E2M, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Radio Chamber Orchestra, the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, the Residentie Orchestra, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Schönberg ensemble and the Seymour Group, and has appeared with leading conductors including Luciano Berio, Riccardo Chailly, Richard Dufallo, Peter Eötvös, Reinbert de Leeuw, Diego Masson, Jacques Mercier, David Porcelijn, David Stock, Lucas Vis, Hans Vonk and Mark Summerbell.
He has given concerts and made radio recordings all over Europe, North and South America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Asia, performing works written for and dedicated to him. Over 500 compositions were written for him by composers such as Claudio Ambrosini, Luciano Berio, Gerard Brophy, Paul-Heinz Dittrich, Franco Donatoni, Morton Feldman, Brian Ferneyhough, Gérard Grisey, Mary Finsterer, Andrew Ford, Jonathan Harvey, Maki Ishii, Sukhi Kang, Tristan Keuris, Mark Kopytman, Helmut Lachenmann, Ton de Leeuw, Theo Loevendie, Roderik de Man, Michael Smetanin, Maurice Weddington, Iannis Xenakis, Isang Yun, Andrés Lewin-Richter, Nino Díaz, Hans Joachim Hespos and many others. His own composition BOUWSTENEN for bass clarinet and multiple tape delay was selected for the ISCM World music Days in Denmark.
For many years Harry Sparnaay was professor of bass clarinet and contemporary music at the Conservatoires of Amsterdam and Utrecht where his unique bass clarinet programme attracted students from all over the world, many of them prize winners during major competitions. He has also been musician-in-residence and has given masterclasses at several universities.
Sparnaay played the world premičre of IN FREUNDSCHAFT and SOLO (adaptation for bass- and contra bass clarinet by Barry Anderson) by Karlheinz Stockhausen and was one of the soloists in DIE VERWANDLUNG van Paul-Heinz Dittrich and in the opera's NAIMA by Theo Loevendie, PROMETEO by Luigi Nono and A KING, RIDING by Klaas de Vries. During the Holland Festival 1999 he was one of the instrumental soloists in KOPERNIKUS by Claude Vivier.
Harry Sparnaay founded the Bass Clarinet Collective (9 bass clarinets, including 3 contrabass clarinets) and with pianist Polo de Haas the duo Fusion Moderne which was awarded the fifth prize during the International Gaudeamus Performers Competition in 1972. Together with flautist Harrie Starreveld and pianist René Eckhardt he founded in 1982 Het Trio . For this group over 180 compositions were written in the meantime. With harpsichordist Annelie de Man he founded Double_Action and with his wife, organist Silvia Castillo, the Duo Levent .
He has recorded more than sixty cd's as a soloist, with Het Trio and in other combinations. The Trio 's recording of works by Dutch composer Ton de Leeuw received an Edison Award in 1995. His television productions have been broadcast in the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium and former Yugoslavia. Several times he was a jury member at the International Gaudeamus Performers Competition and he also served as a member of the Dutch section of the ISCM, the International Society for Contemporary Music.
He conducted the Ensemble for New Music of the Conservatoire of Amsterdam in works by Arnold Schönberg, Pierre Boulez, Elliott Carter, Olivier Messiaen, Theo Loevendie, Franco Donatoni, Joe Cutler, Toshio Hosokawa, Mary Finsterer and Iannis Xenakis and during the International Gaudeamus Music Week he regularly conducts ensembles in works by the youngest generation. From 2005 he is professor for bass clarinet and chambermusic at the ESMUC in Barcelona.
Harry Sparnaay plays the new model Prestige GreenLine bass clarinet by Buffet Crampon and he plays on RICO bass clarinet reeds.
His book "Harry Sparnaay - the bass clarinet - a personal history" published by Periferia Music in Barcelona (www.periferiamusic.com) is received worldwide with great enthusiasm. See for all the comments: http://www.harrysparnaay.info/book.htm
April 30th 2004: Harry Sparnaay - Ridder in de Orde van de Nederlandse Leeuw ( a high honour granted by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands)
1972 First prize International Gaudeamus Performers Competition
1985 Swedish Record Prize (music by Arne Mellnäs)
1987 Bulgariona Composers Union award
1988 Inaugural Sounds Australian Award
1995 Edison Award (music by Ton de Leeuw)
1996 Jan van Gilse Award (given by the Dutch Association of Composers)
At certain moments in the history of an instrument, a single player comes along and opens a whole can of worms.
Such is the case with Harry Sparnaay , the Dutch virtuoso whose astounding facility on the bass clarinet has inspired such
heavyweights as Iannis Xenakis, Isang Yun, Morton Feldman and Brian Ferneyhough (along with some 400 other composers)
to write works specifically for him.
CHICAGO READER - John Corbett
What Sparnaay demands from his instrument, the limitless fantasy with which he again and again discovers
new timbral possibilities is unique in music history.
ARGENTINIAN DAILY - E.A.Alleman
The star of the evening was the Dutch bass clarinet virtuoso Harry Sparnaay ,
who extracted from his instrument the whole scale of sound shadows.
The best presentation of the first part of the festival.
GAZETA W KARKOWIE - Jowita Dziedzic
The sounds the bass clarinet can make are too grand for our human dimension........It was an astonishing expansion of the sonic
capabilities of the bass clarinet and the audience in the Hugh Lane Gallery marvelled at the skill of the players.
(together with CONCORDE Ensemble under Jane O'Leary )
THE IRISH TIMES - Douglas Sealy
El clarinetista bajo holandés Harry Sparnaay está considerado como el mejor en su género en todo el mundo
DIAS DE MUSICA CONTEMPORANEA - Tomás Marco
Sparnaay is a virtuoso of the top flight, as accomplished in conventional scores as in pieces demanding more theatricality.
His performance was equally extraordinary.
Sparnaay's recital proved the most rewarding of the Festival. A fascinating programme. ( Huddersfield Festival)
FINANCIAL TIMES - Andrew Clements
Sparnaay has been feted as a musician with boundless imagination and a technique to match and it would be fair to say that
what this clarintetist can do with seemingly little effort or room for breathing takes your own breath away.
CITY TRIBUNE/GALWAY - Carmel Vesey
Parmi les interprčtes on retiendra un remarquable clarinettiste basse néerlandais: Harry Sparnaay .
( Music Festival of Athens )
LE MONDE - Gérard Condé
Music needs people like Harry Sparnaay . His skills as a specialist in bass clarinet render comment superfluous. The concert
must be counted among the finest hours of the longrunning annual series.
THE IRISH TIMES - Martin Adams
The most impresive performance of this electronic program, however,
came from a flesh and blood musician, the Dutch bass clarinettist Harry Sparnaay ,
who was the virtuoso Harry of " Harry's Wonderland " by André Laporte.
THE NEW YORK TIMES - Donald Henehan
Flashes of genius from guest bass clarinettist Harry Sparnaay ,
most impressively in Swedish composer Klas Torstensson's SPANS.
THE IRISH TIMES - Michael Dervan
Maybe the bass clarinet has been waiting all these years for Harry Sparnaay.
TORONTO STAR - William Littler